Early signs suggest homecoming may be gathering speed

Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 00:00

The words writ large in lights projected on to the facade of Trinity College Dublin on New Year’s Eve read: “2013 Love from Ireland.” It is the country itself that may need love, however, given the state of things.

The Gathering, the year-long series of events designed to entice people to visit this country, began on New Year’s Eve with the People’s Procession of Light, a torchlit parade, through the capital and a concert in College Green.

It is hoped the Gathering will boost the number of foreign visitors by 350,000, or 5 per cent, and improve the morale of communities devastated by the economic collapse of recent years.

It is a tall order and there are plenty of sceptics – most notably actor Gabriel Byrne, who described it as a “sham” and a “shakedown”.

Early signs indicate it may be a success, however. By Christmas week the number of events already organised had surpassed 2,500.

On Monday, several thousand participants wedged into Suffolk Street to take part in the parade of lights with many participating in workshops that allowed them make their own personalised lanterns.

A colourful phalanx of jugglers, giant inflatable lanterns, stilt walkers and tandem riders, all supplied by the Donegal-based creative arts group LUXe, led more than 2,000 lantern-bearers through the streets of Dublin. Among those taking part was New Orleans native Sarah Wellman (25), who was in Dublin for New Year’s Eve with her friend Ashley Veade.

“Who wouldn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve in Dublin?” she said. She confessed to having heard nothing about the Gathering, but was delighted with her first visit to Dublin.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said hundreds of those who had registered to take part in the New Year’s Eve parade were from overseas and it augured well for the year ahead.

He said capacity on US routes will be increased by 20 per cent at peak travel times this year to facilitate the Gathering.

Although the New Year’s Eve events marked the official start of the Gathering, the first event was organised by the Halfway House GAA club in Bunclody, Co Wexford.

The club, which has lost nearly half of its intermediate hurling championship team of 2010 to emigration, extended an invitation to the Central Coast GAA club in Sydney to come for Christmas and the New Year expecting 25 responses. They got 80 with a further 120 from other places.

A charity match on December 29th raised €5,700 for the Hope Cancer Support Centre in Wexford.

“The Gathering is a wonderful idea,” said the club’s Barbara-Ann Murphy. “If we can get the economy to pick up, maybe the brothers and sisters of those who have left will have choices other than to emigrate.”

At least one Gathering event will be out of this world in the year ahead. The Blackrock Observatory in Cork has invited the public to send them a minute-long recording of their activities during the year.

At the end of year the results will be beamed by radio telescope to the star Epsilon Eridani, which is 10 light years away and has a planetary system that might sustain life.